Sandy Murman takes a victory lap on approval of $600 million in transportation improvements

Although Sandy Murman considers the $600 million in funding for transportation improvements over the next decade that her County Commission colleagues recently approved as a weaker version of her original proposal, she doesn’t mind taking credit for it.

“I will tell you, and I’m being very honest. If it hadn’t been for me bringing my new plan forward, we would not have $600 million in transportation approved a couple of weeks ago,” she said Friday morning.

Murman’s comment at the weekly “Cafe Con Tampa” event at Hugo’s in Tampa’s Hyde Park generated applause among the approximately 20 people in attendance.

Murman’s original proposal, formed in the wake of the Board of County Commission’s rejection of the Go Hillsborough transportation referendum, called for dedicating one-third of any growth in property and sales taxes to transportation, which would have raised approximately $800 million for road repairs and other fixes over the next decade.

“I didn’t get it,” she says about the board’s refusal to get completely behind her proposal.

They ultimately coalesced around the alternative $600 million proposed by Commissioner Al Higginbotham.

Murman had served as the BOCC’s chair for several years but was stripped of her position November shortly after she first spoke out against supporting the Go Hillsborough Plan and offered up her alternative transportation plan.

The proposal was mocked critically, but months later, the board would ultimately twice reject putting the transportation referendum on the ballot.

The Davis Islands Republican addressed a multitude of issues in her hourlong appearance before the weekly Friday morning club, but she spent considerable time on transportation.

First elected to the board in 2010, she is running for re-election again this fall for the District 1 seat, where she faces Democrat Jeff Zampitella in November.

 Murman repeated something that she has said since she came out against the Go Hillsborough plan: that there will still be a need in the coming years for the board to put a transportation referendum on the ballot, but work needs to be done before getting there. “I think you do them when you’re ready.”

“We will never have enough money in our current budget … to answer the need for this growing community,” she added. Hillsborough County is expected to increase by over 300,000 people in the next five years. “We will have to make an investment at some point.”

Murman serves on the HART board, and she says she actually is one such member who supports the proposal first offered four years ago by Clearwater state Senator Jack Latvala to combine Hillsborough’s transit agency with its equivalent in Pinellas, PSTA.

“I think a regional system makes sense. I think for any investment the public makes into transit, regional is where we need to be focused, to make it cost effective.” She also supports a regional Metropolitan Planning Organization. “We’ve got to start thinking smarter.”

Referring to Latvala’s elevation to Appropriations Chairman and St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes continued role as Senate Transportation head, Murman said now is the time for Tampa Bay state lawmakers to bring home some of the bacon that for far too long has gone to other major metropolitan areas of Florida.

Referring to her eight years (1996-2004) in the Florida House, Murman said, “I watched the Brinks truck pull up from Miami and Orlando and loaded it up with the money to go back to those communities. And they are much further ahead than we are.”

Murman says she wants to address the county’s land-use and affordable housing policies next year, saying that creating more incentives for developers will go a long way to improving both those items. She says she will propose a checklist that every single development going forward to check on how it will affect transportation and schools.

And Murman says that unless incentives are given to developers to create affordable housing units, it simply won’t happen. “If we don’t get it done, we’re not going to get it done, and this community will still be lost in its policies going forward,” she grimly forecast.

Regarding the controversial Public Transportation Commission, like most local Republicans, she says she’d like to see it abolished, though emphasized that she did not want the BOCC to replace it as a regulatory body.

While Murman said she championed small businesses in the county, one member of the audience challenged her, referring to the BOCC’s approving a $6.25 million subsidy to lure a Bass Pro Shops chain store to the county in 2013. That subsidy was an issue put front and center by Democrat Pat Kemp in her ultimately unsuccessful election bid against Al Higginbotham in 2014. Murman expressed zero regrets for her vote, saying that the county’s return on investment will come back within three years.

And she stated that there are plenty of incentive programs to help small businesses.

On a proposed baseball stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, Murman was emphatic: “If you’re going to use any public dollars at all, there has to be a level of transparency so the public can be assured that we’re not going to get into a situation like we did with Go Hillsborough, where things were too left behind the scenes.”

She added that she had “trust and faith” in the leadership of the Rays to do things “in a very clean way.” Murman agreed with 83 Degrees editor Diane Egner that if public dollars are being spent on the facility, it should have a component to it that allows the public to use it, and suggested sports medicine or magnet school on the property.

Former County Commissioner Ed Turnanchik, who was in the audience, said that back in the 90s when he served on the board, it the board ended up being involved in funding Raymond James Stadium, Steinbrenner Field and Amalie Arena, and said that wasn’t a priority any longer.

“I can’t see spending one dime of general revenue on a baseball stadium when traffic conditions are like they’re in SoHo,” he said, “it’s just not a priority to use general revenues.”

Although several people clapped in support, another audience member disagreed and said that a downtown stadium that runs near CSX lines would be the best location. Murman said she agreed, adding she also likes the possibility of building a park in the Westshore area.

 

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Is Oscar Braynon running the best Senate political operation in years?

Democratic uber consultant (and frequent Uber customer) Steve Schale contends in a must-read, table-setting blog post about which Florida Senate races are worth watching that “Oscar Braynon is running the best Senate political operation I’ve seen in years.”

Really?

Technically, Schale is absolutely right. Braynon is running the best political shop in years because, when compared to previous Democratic efforts, O.B. looks like a black James Carville.

Beyond Schale, there are other super-smart people in Tallahassee who think very highly of the Florida Democrats’ Senate political arm. Associated Industries of Florida’s Ryan Tyson often sings its praises, warning Republicans that if the Dems ever have more than two nickels to rub together, they’ll be dangerous.

Schale is also right on two more points:

— that, especially based on recent history, if Braynon’s Democrats overreach, they’re more likely to end up with just 14 or 15 seats in the Senate;

— and that if the Senate Dems get to 16 or 17 seats, that would make a huge impact in the chamber.

But I’m not ready to sing Braynon’s praises. One could make the argument that if the Democrats don’t get to 16-plus seats, the fault squarely lies with Braynon.

Putting aside all of the usual knocks on Florida Democrats — can’t raise money, etc. — Braynon has made glaring strategic mistakes for which he must be held accountable.

The first is not being able to recruit a candidate in Senate District 22. Few developments made me more relieved than to see our friend Jeff Brandes go without a challenge this cycle, but SD 22 is a genuine battleground seat that could have been won in a presidential year (and, admittedly, lost back to the Republicans in the 2018 non-presidential cycle). Braynon was left at the altar by Augie Ribeiro, who flirted with running in the seat, then decided to run in Senate District 19. Still, the seat encompasses St. Petersburg and South Tampa — veritable hotbeds for whatever constitutes Democratic intellectualism (for example, several major national and statewide environmental organizations, such as Defenders of Wildlife, have their offices in the district). It’s just a sin of omission that Braynon was not able to field a candidate here.

O.B.’s second tactical mistake is one borne out of his personal loyalty and willingness to reach across the aisle. By not pinning down his friend, Republican Anitere Flores, in SD 39, Braynon has allowed a couple of million dollars of Republican money to be freed up and redeployed to other races. Had a poll shown Flores in the slightest bit of trouble, Joe Negron would have spent $5 million to protect his chief lieutenant. Instead, Negron can now spend that money to shore up Dana Young in Senate District 18.

And while not outflanking the Republicans in SD 39, Braynon also left himself exposed on his left after backing the wrong candidates in two Democratic primaries. Braynon’s caucus of one backed Mike Clelland over Linda Stewart in SD 13, and Ed Narain over Darryl Rouson in SD 19. He didn’t spend a lot of money to do it, but Braynon now has two members who he personally tried to block from coming to Tallahassee. Look for both of them to give Braynon fits during the 2017-18 legislative sessions.

The honest truth about Braynon is that he is one of the smartest, most well-liked Democrats to hold the leadership post in a while. He’s O.B. from the press skits video of him and Andy Gardiner cutting it up as the “honest” Senate President.

But the Democrats were given the greatest political gift they’ve received in decades with the Florida Supreme Court’s redistricting ruling. Some political reporters, such as Mary Ellen Klas, speculated the Democrats were in position to pick-up six seats.

However, at the end of the day, they might just pick up just one seat (SD 13). If that’s what constitutes running the best Senate political operation in years, that’s hardly worth recognizing.

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HART board member Kathleen Shanahan latest to call for abolishing PTC

The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission’s vote last week to approve new rules that could compel ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft to leave the area has given new life to those who believe the agency should be abolished.

The latest entrant in that camp is HART board member Kathleen Shanahan, who, in a letter published in Monday’s Tampa Bay Times, invokes the U.S. Constitution in arguing why the PTC should not be imposing any rules on the transportation network companies.

“The rationale behind the interstate commerce clause in the U.S. Constitution is to promote fluid commerce between states for those doing business in multiple states,” Shanahan writes. “For the exact same reason, ridesharing companies doing business in multiple Florida counties should be subject to statewide standards, not inconsistent county-by-county rules that potentially impede regional commerce.”

In a letter calling on the PTC to resist passing the regulations (which include Level II background checks which include fingerprinting drivers) last week, Tampa Republican state Representative Dana Young said that the agency should hold off and wait for the state Legislature to address the issue in the 2017 session. A year ago the PTC essential made that decision – they opted not to pass new rules, and also said they would no longer issue citations to Uber and Lyft drivers – until the Legislature dealt with the issue in the 2016 session.

That never happened, however, as talks broke down in committee with bills sponsored by Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz in the House and Altamonte Springs’ Dave Simmons in the Senate.

Shanahan was named by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn to serve as the City of Tampa representative on the HART board in October of 2014. A former chief of staff to both former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, Shanahan has definitely made her presence felt at HART meetings, particularly in making sure that the agency has fostered good relationships with lawmakers in Tallahassee and Washington D.C. to secure federal and state money for the transit agency.

Shanahan’s call for the PTC to be abolished echoes similar comments made over the years by Buckhorn, as well as Tampa Bay area state Republicans like Senator Jeff Brandes and Jamie Grant.Those two lawmakers have been unsuccessful in recent years in trying to get legislation passed to kill the agency.

“This is a perfect example of government run amok,” Brandes wrote in August of 2015 on his Facebook page after the agency resumed citing Uber and Lyft drivers. “Enough is enough. I’m drafting sweeping legislation to reform the PTC. It’s time our leaders stood up on behalf of our residents, tourists, and businesses to make sure Tampa Bay has the most robust network of transportation options available.”

The PTC is the only agency of its type in Florida. It was created by the state Legislature in 1976 as a Special Act, which means that the Legislature has the power to end it.

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HD 60 Republican candidate Jackie Toledo slams PTC’s vote on ridesharing companies

Like the many Tampa Bay area GOP state lawmakers she wants to join in Tallahassee this November, Jackie Toledo said Wednesday she is disgusted by the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission’s approval of new regulations that could ultimately lead ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft to leave the region.

“The rules passed by the PTC are clear examples of abuse of power and bureaucratic overreach, plain and simple,” the House District 60 Republican candidate said in a statement issued shortly after the vote came down. “They are designed to push ridesharing companies out of Hillsborough County in favor of a corrupted special interest group with deep pockets.”

On Tuesday, Dana Young, current occupant of the HD 60 seat in South Tampa and western Hillsborough County, penned a letter to the PTC co-signed by virtually the entire Tampa Bay area legislative delegation, with the exception of Tampa Democrats Ed Narain and Arthenia Joyner (Narain informs us that he was never asked to sign on to the letter)The missive called the PTC’s proposed new rules — which included a Level II background check for ridesharing drivers that includes fingerprinting — “plainly designed to be an anti-competitive attempt to push ridesharing companies out of Hillsborough County.”

“If this occurs,” Young added, “our constituents will pay the price by losing a safe and reliable transportation option.”

Young, along with Tampa Bay area Republicans Jeff Brandes and Jamie Grant, supported Uber’s entrance into the Hillsborough market in the spring of 2014 with enthusiasm, and have been persistent critics of the PTC. However, they’ve not been able to persuade their colleagues to date in Tallahassee to pass a statewide regulatory framework for ridesharing companies, leaving it to local governments like the PTC to work it out. Uber and Lyft continue to face similar issues of not being in compliance in Orange and Duval counties, though they were able to clear up their issues over the past year in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

In her statement, Toledo is now calling for the PTC to be “disbanded.”

“For too long, the PTC has stood in the way of innovation and the free market,” she said. “The rules passed today are a clear indication that the PTC is more interested in doing what is best interest of special interest groups than what is in the best interest of those who live, work, and visit the Tampa Bay area. It is a glaring example of why we need leaders in Tallahassee who can stand up for pro-consumer policies and push back against efforts by unelected bureaucrats to thwart the will of the people.”

Toledo is running against Democrat David Singer in the HD 60 race. Late this afternoon he, too, said that he did not approve of the PTC’s actions.

“Innovative technologies like Uber and Lyft provide a much-needed boost to our set of transportation options,” he said.

“We are a large and growing metro area, and we should do everything that we can to encourage inventive, market-driven solutions that help our community,” Singer continued. “We need to position Tampa and Hillsborough County as ahead of the curve on new technology so that we can effectively compete with other growing markets. I’m not in favor of regulations passed by the PTC today that stifle innovation and may cause Uber and Lyft to leave our market.”

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Hillsborough Clerk Pat Frank gets the last word in beef with Hillsborough PTC

Less than two weeks before Hillsborough County Democrats went to the polls last month to vote in the clerk of the court race, WTSP-Channel 10 ran an explosive story on how the Public Transportation Commission had lost faith in the office, and was now taking public money away from the clerk’s control. The story painted Clerk of the Court Pat Frank in an extremely bad light, just as early voting had begun in her bitter primary race against Kevin Beckner. Ultimately, the story did nothing to harm her electoral prospects, and she ended up crushing Beckner by more than 18 percentage points on Election Day.

Frank stood before the PTC board and its executive director, Kyle Cockream, at Wednesday’s monthly meeting, and blasted the public bashing of her office.

“We’re used to criticism,” she said, but added that it was “frustrating when when we are blamed for something that is not our fault.”

Frank acknowledged independent auditors made critical discoveries surrounding the PTC’s accounting in the past three years, but contended those issues had nothing to do with the clerk’s office.

“The audits clearly state that the problems are with your staff, which has struggled to adapt to a new computerized accounting system,” she said. “More training is clearly needed and my staff stands ready to help. My office was also criticized for late payments to vendors and duplicate payments. A review of the past 12 months shows that my office paid your invoices within 3.5 days, though often the invoices were not sent to us for weeks. We cannot pay invoices unless they are sent to us with proper documentation. Also, the same review found only one duplicate payment, which was the result of PTC staff error.”

The story also alleged the PTC had discovered the clerk’s office was about to pay $180,000 for an $18,000 vehicle.

Never happened, Frank said on Wednesday.

“The invoice was submitted incorrectly by the vendor and caught by the PTC staff,” she said. “It was never sent to my office. We have repeatedly asked your staff for documentation to back up its complaints about my office.”

The clerk’s office has handled the accounting for the PTC for decades, but Cockream has recently authorized the agency to begin looking for services from the private sector. In her parting remarks, Frank said he should “feel free” to do so, but “just don’t criticize my office on your way out the door.”

But before leaving the dais, Frank took a shot at the agency’s payment to the Tallahassee lobbying firm of Corcoran & Associates in 2015 — a payment noted PTC critic Jeff Brandes called on Attorney General Pam Bondi to investigate

“If you want to save money, you might consider deleting the $120,000 you paid to Corcoran & Associates — a firm with family connections to the incoming speaker of the House, Richard Corcoran. Thank you for your time.”

There was no microphone for Frank to drop, or she undoubtedly would have done so with that zinger.

“I’m really sorry if anyone’s feelings got hurt in all of this. That was certainly not the intention,” Cockream responded later in the afternoon, adding he has had recent conversations with Frank’s staff. “If we can find a resolution to the issues at hand, then that’s the end of the game. I don’t see any benefit in engaging in any public bantering back and forth about it. She’s an elected official and I respect that office and I’d never do that.”

 

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Dana Young urges Hillsborough PTC reject new rules proposed for Uber, Lyft

Writing that “Hillsborough County is better than this,” Dana Young is the latest Tampa Bay area lawmaker calling for the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission to reject proposed new rules that ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft say would force them out of the local market.

In a letter Tuesday to PTC Chair Victor Crist, Young says the current proposal set for a vote by the PTC “is plainly designed to be an anti-competitive attempt to push ride-sharing companies out of Hillsborough County.”

“If this occurs,” she added, “our constituents will pay the price by losing a safe and reliable transportation option.”

Young’s letter was co-signed by 12 members of the local Tampa Bay area legislative delegation.

Last week, a PTC subcommittee approved new regulations representatives from Uber and Lyft have said are unacceptable. They include a seven-minute wait time for a passenger to get a for a vehicle for hire in the county, a $7 minimum fare, and Level II backgrounds checks that require fingerprinting their drivers. That last demand actually compelled Uber to leave the Austin, Texas market this past spring, so both companies appear serious about not bending on that issue.

On Monday, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn headlined a news conference featuring members of Hillsborough County’s entrepreneur, tourism, and business sectors. They also called on the PTC to reject the proposed rules.

Although the state Legislature failed to come up with statewide regulations of ride-sharing companies, Young’s letter vows the issue will finally be addressed in the next regular Legislative Session, which begins March. Young says the PTC board should hold off on any action regarding ridesharing in Hillsborough until the 2017 legislative session ends next spring.

Joining her in co-signing the letter are two local Republicans well-known for their enthusiasm for ridesharing and loathing of the PTC — Jeff Brandes and Jamie Grant. Republican legislators Larry Ahern, Danny Burgess, Richard Corcoran, Bill Galvano, Jake Raburn, Shawn Harrison, Wilton Simpson, Ross Spano, Dan Raulson, and Democrat Darryl Rouson also signed onto the letter.

Some Hillsborough Democrats have been much less vocal in criticizing the PTC and speaking up for the ridesharing companies than their Republican brethren since Uber and Lyft began operating in Hillsborough in the spring of 2014.

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Bob Buckhorn, others call Hillsborough PTC to reject rules that Uber, Lyft say could drive them out

Two days before the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission looks to approve new regulations that representatives from ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft say could compel them to leave town, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and others in Hillsborough County’s business community had a simple message for them on Monday: Don’t do it.

Specifically, they warned the agency not to approve new regulations approved by a subcommittee of the PTC last week that include a $7 minimum fare and a seven-minute wait time for passengers — and absolutely do not approve Level II background checks which include having Uber and Lyft drivers fingerprinted.

“We are not going to a city that’s going to be held down hostage by any cabal of any industry,” Buckhorn said, a nod to the fact that the taxicab industry in Hillsborough — as has been the case all over the world — objects to the Transportation Network Companies (TNC’s) operating under different rules of the road.

Since they began operating in Tampa in April 2014, the PTC has been unable to bring the two companies into compliance with their regulations, many of which the companies believe are onerous and out of date. It’s not unique to this community — the ridesharing companies also remain at odds with regulators in Orlando and Jacksonville, for example, while the companies have come into compliance in the past year with local governments in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.

But Uber and Lyft did pull completely out of Austin, Texas, earlier this year over a similar impasse regarding those Level II background checks.

Buckhorn also used the opportunity at the press conference to once again call for the outright abolition of the PTC, the controversial agency created by the Legislature in the 1970s to craft regulations for vehicles-for-hire in Hillsborough County. It’s the only such agency in the state.

The PTC’s heavy-handed tactics in previous years have led to the belief by some that it is a handmaiden of the taxicab industry. It’s a perception that only gained more currency when former PTC Chair Kevin White was convicted of charges of conspiracy, bribery, wire fraud, and lying to the FBI after he was found guilty of accepting thousands of dollars in bribes and a luxury SUV exchange for helping three prospective wrecker company operators win certificates from the PTC.

“I continue to believe it is a dinosaur,” Buckhorn said about the PTC, a belief shared by Tampa Bay area legislators like Jeff Brandes, Dana Young, and Jamie Grant. “Dinosaurs are extinct. The PTC should be extinct.”

“We are not trying to keep anybody out of the marketplace,” insists Kyle Cockream, the executive director of the PTC. “Instead, the focus is on consensus on regulations that ensure rider safety,” he said in a statement. “We want a solid framework that welcomes TNC’s while making the safety of our riding public a priority.”

Buckhorn was surrounded by more than a dozen people at the news conference, held at the Attic, a downtown coffee shop/bar. Many were representatives of the business community and entrepreneurs who don’t want Uber and Lyft to leave, saying such a loss will hurt with the recruitment of businesses and the retaining and/or luring millennials to stay in the Tampa Bay.

“The whole country took note when Austin passed its draconian legislation,” said Christopher Emmanuel, director of infrastructure and governance policy for the Florida Chamber of Commerce. “We ask that the PTC suspend consideration of this extreme rule, and work with the new business and responsible partners that are hoping to bring transportation solutions for Tampa and Florida’s future.”

Tony DiBenedetto is the chair and CEO of a tech company called Tribridge. He said he doesn’t even own a car these days, and instead takes Uber to wherever he has to go.

“I think it’s sending the wrong message to everybody,” he said about the proposed regulations, which could prompt the companies to leave the region. “I think this is a devastating decision on their part. I think it would hurt us from a recruiting perspective; it’s already hard to recruit to Tampa.”

Although the Level II background checks have garnered the most attention, Uber and Lyft have serious issues with other proposed rules going before the PTC board on Wednesday, such as a seven-minute wait time for anyone to hail a vehicle-for-hire car in Hillsborough County.

“You request a ride, said Blayn Shamble, a Tampa Bay area Lyft driver.”It takes two minutes to get there, and now I have to lock my doors and roll my window down and say, ‘I’m sorry, you cannot legally get into my car until five minutes passes.’

“In my opinion, that is just picking your winners and losers in a free market,” Shamble added.

The PTC has said the new rules were promulgated by members of the cab industry and would-be TNC DriveSociety, who are pushing the PTC hard to pass the new rules.

“Are you a believer in public safety?,” shouted out DriveSociety proprietor Marcus Carter after Buckhorn explained how he believed competition was good for business. “You’re not a member of the media,” barked Buckhorn, who later said that he “welcomed” DriveSociety to the industry.

The Tampa mayor also said the cab industry needed to “up their game” to stay competitive with the new technology.

Louis Menardi, the chair of the Florida Taxicab Association and president of Yellow Cab of Tampa, issued a statement shortly before the press conference took place.

“Uber and Lyft’s approach to this issue is not unique to Hillsborough County or Florida,” he said. “All across the U.S., many local communities, including Portland, San Francisco, San Antonio, Austin, and Orlando are raising significant concerns about fundamental public safety issues and background checks, whether TNC drivers have any or adequate insurance, and whether the local communities should require better service from them for passengers in wheelchairs.

“In response, TNCs flout the law, ignore local regulations and resort to threatening local cities and counties with leaving and/or state and federal forced deregulation when they are questioned about their business practices as they relate to public safety and well-being.”

The PTC board meeting on the new rules will take place Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. at the County Center, 601 E. Kennedy, Tampa, 2nd floor.

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Jeff Brandes turns attention to criminal justice reform

It’s been overlooked for years, but criminal justice reform could be coming down the pike.

Sen. Jeff Brandes said he hopes to make reforming the system a top priority, but told the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists it could take years before reforms are achieved.

Calls for reform aren’t new, but they are growing louder. In March, former Attorney General Bob Butterworth and Judge Simone Marstille penned an op-ed to outline the need for reforms. Calls for change have come from Florida TaxWatch and the ACLU of Florida. And several other states across the nation are already taking steps to transform the system.

But the process is slow going. The Florida Legislature shot down an attempt to give the Department of Corrections an additional 734 jobs, which the agency said would make Florida’s prisons more secure. The additional positions would have allowed corrections workers to work 8-hour shifts, instead of 12-hour shifts.

“Our prisons are run at a skeleton crew. Guards are on 12 hour shifts, (they’re) tired, they’re angry … and what you don’t want is a (guard to be) tired, angry and watching 140 prisons,” said Brandes. “I think we have a crisis in our prisons.”

Brandes said while his constituents aren’t clamoring for criminal justice reform, it is an issue that needs to be address. He plans to do that over the next few years, spending this year gathering data so lawmakers can better understand the issues at hand. He also plans to introduce a bill to create a task force to study the issue.

In 2018, Brandes said he hopes to run multiple bills to address the state’s prison system.

“I think we can get our arms around it,” said Brandes. “We can’t it in committee, we’ve seen what happens in the committee process. This is a multi-year process.”

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Mike Mikurak schedules two fundraisers

Mike Mikurak has scheduled two fundraisers this month to help finance his run for the Pinellas County Commission. The first event is scheduled for 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sept. 13 at the home of

The first event is planned for 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sept. 13 at the home of Joe and JoAnn White in Largo. The host committee reads like a Who’s Who of local Republicans. The committee includes Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, state Sens. Jack Latvala and Jeff Brandes, and state Reps. Kathleen Peters, Chris Latvala, Chris Sprowls and Larry Ahern. Also on the list are Clerk of Court Ken Burke, outgoing tax collector Diane Nelson, outgoing property appraiser Pam Dubov, State Attorney Bernie McCabe and Public Defender Bob Dillinger.

Other Republican notables include Madeira Beach Mayor Travis Palladeno, South PasadenAngusa Mayor Max Elson, Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis, former St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, council members Ed Montanari from St. Petersburg, Doreen Caudell from Clearwater and Eric Seidel from Oldsmar. Former Pinellas County Commissioner Neil Brickfield and former state Reps. Ed Hooper and Frank Farkas are also on the host committee.

The second event, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sept. 14, is billed as a “Beach Party” at the Island Grille & Raw Bar, 210 Madonna Blvd., Tierra Verde. The event will have “heavy hors d’oeuvres” and a cash bar.

Mikurak, a New Jersey native, is a retired businessman who was a founding partner of Accenture, a global firm providing consulting in strategy and technology. He is making his first run for public office against incumbent Democrat Charlie Justice for the District 3 at-large seat. The seat is voted on countywide. The election is Nov. 8.

Mikurak Fundraiser

Mikurak Fundraiser

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Five Florida politicians with a lot on the line today even though they’re not on the ballot

Their names are not on the ballot today, but five Florida politicians have a lot on the line as voters head to polls Tuesday.

Governor Rick Scott, Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran, Senate President-designate Joe Negron, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry each have a lot at stake in today’s elections.

For Scott, there is an opportunity to demonstrate his influence if the candidates he has backed win their competitive legislative races. Scott has directly or indirectly assisted Doug Broxson in Senate District 1, Ritch Workman in Senate District 17, and Kathleen Passidomo in Senate District 28. All of these candidates are running in tough GOP primaries.

Although no one will say it aloud, opposite Scott — or at least Scott’s allies at the Florida Chamber of Commerce — is Corcoran and a slate of candidates running for the Florida House. As Jason Garcia of Florida Trend tweet-stormed yesterday, Corcoran and a loose assortment of interchangeable allies are backing Jonathan Tallman in HD 4, Terrance Freeman in HD 12, Wenda Lewis in HD 21, and Erin Grall in HD 54. Not that Corcoran needs any more friends than he already has, but he’d love to win these races to restock his Republican majority.

Time was, Negron had to worry about how his allies would do in the primaries. That was back when he was locked in an intraparty scrum with Jack Latvala for the Senate presidency. But now that Negron’s place is assured, the issue he is most worried about today is one of personal pride. His wife, Rebecca, is running in the ultra-competitive race for Florida’s 18th Congressional District. It’s looking tough for Mrs. Negron, as Brian Mast was leading in the most recent public poll.

Brandes is not fighting any proxy wars in any of the congressional or legislative races, but he has as much at stake Tuesday as any of these pols. That’s because he’s the de facto leader of Amendment 4, a ballot measure to provide property tax breaks for people who install solar panels on their homes. Amendment 4 was placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote in both chambers of the Legislature, but Brandes has been its most vocal champion. Environmentalists and business interests also support the measure, which must receive 60 percent approval to pass.

There’s probably no one with more on the line Tuesday than Curry. County Referendum 1 would allow Jacksonville to extend a current 1/2-cent sales surtax past its sunset and to dedicate it to a $2.8 billion unfunded pension liability. But this referendum is about more than pensions and taxes. Curry has put his sizable political machine being “Yes for Jacksonville,” so much so that it’s difficult to imagine what happens if Jacksonville voters say “No.”

Keep your eyes on these stories as results begin to come in after 7 p.m.

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